Ideological Turing test

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An ideological Turing test (or religious Turing test[1][2][3]) checks whether a political or ideological partisan correctly understands the arguments of his or her intellectual adversaries. The partisan is invited to answer questions or write an essay posing as his opposite number; if neutral judges cannot tell the difference between the partisan's answers and the answers of the opposite number, the candidate is judged to correctly understand the opposing side.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

The Ideological Turing test is so named as to evoke the Turing test, a test whereby a machine is required to fool a neutral judge into thinking that it is human.


The term was first coined by Bryan CaplanWikipedia in 2011[12] in response to Paul Krugman's claim that, in the context of US politics, liberals understand conservatives (and libertarians) better than conservatives (and libertarians) understand liberals.[13] Borrowing the idea of the Turing test used to judge whether machines can pass themselves off as human, Caplan suggested the Ideological Turing test as a way to impartially test Krugman's claim: whichever side understands the other better would perform better on an Ideological Turing test. He also offered to take the test himself and offered to bet that libertarians could more easily pass themselves off as liberal than liberals could pass themselves off as libertarian.

Caplan's post was praised by Ilya SominWikipedia at The Volokh ConspiracyWikipedia blog.[14]

Attempts at the Ideological Turing test[edit]

Three versions of the ideological Turing test have been attempted:[15]

  1. The identity and ideological affiliation of the author are explicitly known. This may happen if an author who is well known for espousing certain ideological positions writes a piece play-acting as somebody with the opposite ideological position, with a clear indication that this is intended to be an Ideological Turing test. A disadvantage of this approach is that readers already know the answer, and hence might be affected by hindsight bias.
  2. The identity and ideological affiliation of the author are not known, but it is made clear that this may be an Ideological Turing test. Typically, this is done as part of a "contest" where a number of entries are solicited to argue for an ideological position, some from genuine proponents of the position, and some from opponents. People are asked to distinguish genuine proponents from opponents. The proportion of proponents versus opponents may or may not be known in advance. A criticism of this approach was that it made readers overly skeptical compared to what they should be under ordinary circumstances.[16]
  3. The identity and ideological affiliation of the author are not known, and it is not suggested that the piece may be an Ideological Turing test. Rather, every attempt is made to deceive readers into believing that they are dealing with a genuine proponent of the position.

Caplan's blog post inspired a number of tries of the first version by prominent bloggers[17] including those listed below:

Author Ideological Turing test for ...
Brad DeLong a follower of Robert Nozick,Wikipedia a libertarian philosopher[18]
Bryan Caplan a conservative appealing to libertarians in a United States context.[19]
Ilya Somin a left-liberal.[20]

The second version has been used in tests by the LessWrong community, such as advocates of vegetarianism imitating omnivores and vice versa, advocates of homeschooling or drug legalization imitating opponents, etc.[21][15]

Religious Turing test contests[edit]

Leah Libresco (who was an atheist at the time, but later converted to Catholicism[22]) set up a contest based on the Ideological Turing test idea involving atheists and Christians.[23] Interested contestants were given a set of four questions as prompts and asked to write responses to the questions, both as atheists and as Christians. Fifteen people participated in the contest, about half of them Christian and half atheist. In the first round, all the fifteen responses written as atheists were published.[24][25][26] In the second round, all the responses written as Christians were published, albeit not with the same numbering. Readers were asked to fill in a survey specifying their own religious identification and giving their view, for each response whether it was by a Christian or an atheist. Later, the identities and affiliations of all the participants, as well as how they did in the survey responses, was revealed in a series of blog posts.[27][28][29] The test was repeated in 2012 and a resource page recording all iterations of the test was created on the Patheos website.[30] In 2015, Libresco ran another Christian/Atheist Ideological Turing test.[31]

Another example is the denominational test set up by the Religion & Story blog which seeks to measure how well people of one Christian denomination understand the beliefs and attitudes of another.[2]

Historical precedents[edit]

Dawes, Singer and Lemon (1972) conducted an experiment along the lines of the Ideological Turing test between "hawks" versus "doves" on the Vietnam War in the United States.[32] They found that each side rejected more statements made by the other side during the experiment than by their own side, on the grounds that the statements were too extreme. However, the degree of exaggeration was not symmetric. Doves significantly exaggerated the extremity of the typical hawk, but hawks showed only a weak tendency to exaggerate the extremity of the typical dove.


See the main article on this topic: Rail transportation

Ironically, both liberals and conservatives have been accused of failing the test when describing each other's feelings about High-speed rail. Krugman's original inspiration was an absurd claim by George Will[33] that liberals want to build high-speed trains in order to control people's minds:

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer … the real reason for progressives' passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism. … To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

While Adam Gopnik was criticized by Cato's David Boaz[34] for claiming that conservatives resist high-speed trains because they "hate the very idea of fast trains and efficient air travel" and would "rather sweat in squalor than pay for better service".

The reason we don’t have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it’s that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal. They hate fast trains and efficient airports for the same reason that seventeenth‐​century Protestants hated the beautiful Baroque churches of Rome when they saw them: they were luxurious symbols of an earthly power they despised.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Somin, Ilya (2011-06-24). "A Turing Test For Religion" (in en-US). "Inspired by Bryan Caplan’s ideological Turing Test, atheist blogger Leah Libresco proposes a religious Turing test to measure the extent to which Christians and atheists understand the arguments of the other side" 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Crouch, Daniel (2015-02-07). "Religion & Story Denominational Turing Test". Wordpress. 
  3. "The Atheism/Religion Turing Test" (in en). 
  4. Galef, Julia (2021-04-13). "Could you pass an ideological Turing test?" (in en). The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't. Penguin. pp. 203. ISBN 978-0-7352-1756-0. 
  5. Kling, Arnold (2017-05-01). "The Ideological Turing Test" (in en). The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides. Cato Institute. pp. 65. ISBN 978-1-944424-47-3. 
  6. Hicks, Michael (March 15, 2021). "Hicks: Forget raising minimum wage, here are arguments for and against its very existence" (in en-US). "In so doing I’ll attempt an ideological Turing test, making the arguments so clearly that a reader cannot discern my personal position." 
  7. Matthews, Dylan (2019-08-09). "Quillette loves hoaxes that embarrass the left. Here's how "Archie Carter" hoaxed Quillette." (in en). "wanted to prove that he could express anti-identity politics views that he disagrees with in a way that people who do hold those views would recognize and embrace (an exercise that economist Bryan Caplan has termed an “ideological Turing test,” after the famous test of artificial intelligence)." 
  8. Carden, Art (2018-12-03). "Why People Are So Divided on Immigration (Hint: We Speak Different Political Languages)" (in en). "In this respect, Kling relies on his EconLog co-blogger Bryan Caplan's idea of "The ideological Turing Test,"" 
  9. Are You An Ideological Robot? by Institute for Humane Studies (Nov 20, 2017) YouTube.
  10. Carter, Stephen L. (2018-08-11). "There's nothing wrong with being wrong" (in en-US). "Chu borrows from the economist Bryan Caplan the idea of an “ideological Turing test”: If we can’t mimic the arguments of those on the other side, then we don’t understand them well enough to disagree with them." 
  11. Weber, Brenden (2019-09-11). "A Turing Test for Your Ideology" (in en). 
  12. Caplan, Bryan (2011-06-20). "The Ideological Turing Test". EconLog. 
  13. Roell, Sophie. "Books that Inspired a Liberal Economist, recommended by Paul Krugman" (in en). "A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. … The reverse is not true. … if you ask a conservative, “What do liberals want?” You get this bizarre stuff – for example, that liberals want everybody to ride trains, because it makes people more susceptible to collectivism." 
  14. Somin, Ilya (2011-06-23). "The Ideological Turing Test". 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Ideological Turing Test: Playtest report". 
  16. DeStefano, Matt (2012-06-14). "Ideological Turing Test Reflections". 
  17. Caplan, Bryan (2011-06-23). "Two Tries at the Ideological Turing Test". EconLog. 
  18. deLong, Brad (2011-06-21). "The Turing Test: Who Can Successfully Explain Robert Nozick?". 
  19. Caplan, Bryan (2010-07-16). "The Conservative Missionary". EconLog. 
  20. Somin, Ilya (2011-06-23). "Taking the Ideological Turing Test". The Volokh Conspiracy. 
  21. "Vegetarianism Ideological Turing Test Results". 
  22. Libresco, Leah (2012-06-18). "This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal". Patheos. 
  23. palladias (18 Feb 2013). "Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Argument". 
  24. Libresco, Leah (2011-07-07). "Prep for Judging Ideological Turing Test". 
  25. "Religious Turing Test Update". EconLog. 2011-07-07. 
  26. Caplan, Bryan (2011-07-08). "Judge the Religious Turing Test". EconLog. 
  27. Libresco, Leah (2011-07-20). "Turing Test Answer Key". Patheos. 
  28. Libresco, Leah (2011-07-20). "Who Won the Atheist Round?". Patheos. 
  29. Libresco, Leah (2011-07-21). "Christian Round Winners". Patheos. 
  30. Libresco, Leah. "Ideological Turing Test Contest". Patheos. 
  31. Libresco, Leah (2015-04-13). "2015 Ideological Turing Test". Patheos. 
  32. Caplan, Bryan (2013-06-19). "A Hawk-Dove Ideological Turing Test". EconLog.